Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters. Welcome to the Dark Universe.
"The Mummy", in theatres this weekend, is the first movie in a new series from Universal Pictures called the Dark Universe. The franchise will resurrect the malformed and misunderstood monsters of classic Universal horror movies.
Here's everything you need to know about the Dark Universe. There are no spoilers for "The Mummy" at the top, but there are some further down. If you haven't seen the film, look for Frankenstein's monster and his spoiler warning. You're safe till then.
'The Mummy' is only the first to be dug up
Dark Universe begins with "The Mummy". Next up, in February 2019, is a return to the 1935 film "Bride of Frankenstein". It might seem strange to remake a film that was actually a sequel. But let's face it -- not many people need Frankenstein's origin story explained yet again.
That's just for starters. The creators say they want to take on Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Invisible Man.
The franchise guys are in charge
The evil geniuses and mad scientists behind the franchise are Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan. Kurtzman has written reboots of "Star Trek", "Transformers", "Hawaii Five-0" and "Sleepy Hollow". He's also the co-creator of the forthcoming TV series "Star Trek: Discovery".
Morgan is the writer of the last six "Fast and Furious" movies. Between the two men, it's fair to say they have plenty of experience in creating popular franchises.
"Bride of Frankenstein" will be written by Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp and directed by Bill Condon. As well as directing the smash remake of "Beauty and the Beast", Condon knows a thing or two about the Universal monster movies. He helmed the excellent "Gods and Monsters", a 1998 behind-the-scenes biopic exploring the last days of original "Frankenstein" director James Whale.
It's full of stars
Replacing monster-sized movie stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are modern stars like Tom Cruise, Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp. Bardem will play Frankenstein's monster and Depp will play the Invisible Man -- good news for anyone who wishes he'd just disappear.
It's based on the original cinematic universe
From the 1920s through to the 1950s, Universal told the stories of a carnival of feared and misunderstood souls. The first was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1923, starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. It was such a huge hit that Chaney again donned monstrous make-up two years later for "The Phantom of the Opera".
In 1931, Bela Lugosi played Dracula while Boris Karloff played Frankenstein's monster. Karloff also appeared in the original "The Mummy" movie in 1932. These 1930s movies seared the definitive visions of many famous creatures into the popular imagination, often thanks to the designs of makeup guru Jack Pierce.
Then in 1943, Universal created what may well be the first cinematic shared universe. Originally conceived by the writer Curt Siodmak as a joke, "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" was the first of several team-ups and face-offs that paved the way for the Dark Universe.
It's not the first monster mash-up
Classic monsters of literature have joined forces before, most notably in the comic "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Let's hope Dark Universe turns out better than the messy 2003 movie adaptation of "League".
While we're on the subject, let's hope it's better than Universal's recent attempts to exhume its favourite monsters: 2004's "Van Helsing", 2010's "The Wolfman" and 2014's "Dracula Untold" would all have been better left buried.
One thing the Dark Universe will do differently from those monstrous misfires is to update the stories to the present day instead of keeping them in the past. That approach certainly gives 2017's "The Mummy" a fresh feel.
The link is hiding in plain sight
At the heart of the series is Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe. As revealed in a trailer for "The Mummy", he's in charge of an organisation called Prodigium that will link the movies. Prodigium hunts -- or helps -- the monsters of the Dark Universe.
Dr. Jekyll has a very personal relationship with monsters. If he doesn't get regular injections, he transforms into hulking cockney wrong'un Mr. Hyde. Prodigium has systems in place to contain Mr. Hyde, but we learn in "The Mummy" that he's sick of hiding away.
When he's in control, Dr. Jekyll talks and dresses like he could be from a more refined time, perhaps even the Victorian age when Robert Louis Stevenson's novella was written. Has his story been updated to make him a modern character, or is he much older than he appears?
Prodigium has already met many monsters
Prodigium certainly appears to have been around for a while, judging by the collection of objects in its headquarters beneath the Natural History Museum.
Among the items of unnatural history are what looks like a bit of the creature from the black lagoon and a toothy vampire's skull.
Tom Cruise could return
At the end of "The Mummy", Tom Cruise's character, Nick Morton, has absorbed the demonic Egyptian god Set, giving him the power to resurrect the dead. We last see Cruise and sidekick Jake Johnson galloping into the desert. Will they cross paths with Prodigium in a future movie?
It's not tied to Brendan Fraser's 'Mummy' movies … or is it?
Younger monster fans are more likely to remember Universal's swashbuckling "The Mummy" series from 1999 onward starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz (and the Rock) than they are to recall the classic Universal monster movies. The new Dark Universe series isn't directly connected to those more recent "Mummy" films -- just like it quietly ignores "Van Helsing".
Still, a heavyweight tome glimpsed in Dr. Jekyll's library in "The Mummy" does look an awful lot like the Book of the Dead from the 1999 movie.
We're going to go ahead and imagine that at least some of the films tie together. A Brendan Fraser cameo in the next Dark Universe film, anyone?
It could be a lot of fun
There's a reason these monsters of myth and legend are so enduringly popular. In the right hands, these stories of malformed souls and misunderstood menaces will always be compelling.
"The Mummy" is an action film rather than a horror film, suggesting that Dark Universe will be accessible to the whole family. It's on the level of films with scary moments like the Indiana Jones movies.
Unfortunately critics have declared that "The Mummy" a stiff with a Metacritic rating of just 34, and it's failed to challenge " " at the US box office. But it's done better on a global scale, projected to take in $130m around the world -- potentially Tom Cruise's biggest ever global opening.
The new take on "The Mummy" is fast-paced, funny and entertainingly silly. In the right hands, the Dark Universe could breathe new life into these undead creatures. Or as a certain Victor Frankenstein might say: "It's alive. It's aliiiiive!"
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